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Old 09-16-2019, 08:11 AM
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I'm figuratively nauseated by your literal ignorance


From today's Wall St. Journal:

"The clear effort of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu to turn Israel literally into a local branch of the Republican Party...is a harmful and serious trend." - Itzmik Shmuli, Labor politician

Nope, Netanyahu may see his country as a figurative auxiliary of the G.O.P., but there's nothing literal about it.

"There are going to be some issues where the (New Hampshire) Legislature and the governor differ, but there are others where I'm literally scratching my head," said Donna Soucy, the Democratic Senate president."

If you're literally scratching your head, Donna, better have someone check your scalp for ectoparasites.
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Old 09-16-2019, 08:49 AM
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From today's Wall St. Journal:

"The clear effort of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu to turn Israel literally into a local branch of the Republican Party...is a harmful and serious trend." - Itzmik Shmuli, Labor politician

Nope, Netanyahu may see his country as a figurative auxiliary of the G.O.P., but there's nothing literal about it.
You're either quoting a man who speaks English as a second language, or you're quoting a translation of unknown quality. Can I have a source? Was it an interview with WSJ? Because I can't find the quote on Shmuli's Twitter or Facebook accounts.
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Old 09-16-2019, 08:52 AM
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Both of those things might easily be intended literally as well as figuratively. It’s not like they’re saying something like “literally climbing the walls.”
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Old 09-16-2019, 08:55 AM
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I support this Pitting.

Another term whose usage has been co-opted by the Ignorati is "exponential growth." One of the following two sequences exhibits exponential growth in its mathematical sense. Guess which one.
1, 8, 27, 64, 125, 216, 343, 512, 729, 1000, 1331, 1728,
2.000, 2.020, 2.040, 2.060, 2.081, 2.102, 2.123, 2.144, 2.165, 2.187, 2.209, 2.231,
But faulty facts are even worse than Humpty-Dumpty words. On a somberer note even prestigious newspapers are rife with factual confusions. The "Age of Information" indeed!
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Old 09-16-2019, 09:00 AM
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Huh? Yeah. Oh, sorry. I- It's just, I-I'm worried my entire life I've been misusing the word "literally"!
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Old 09-16-2019, 09:16 AM
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You're either quoting a man who speaks English as a second language, or you're quoting a translation of unknown quality. Can I have a source?
Page A6, today's WSJ, in the article ''Trump's Ties to Israel Test Its Bond With U.S. Jews'', second column.
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Old 09-16-2019, 09:18 AM
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". . .to turn Israel literally into"? I'm offended by the poor copy editing.
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Old 09-16-2019, 09:27 AM
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Page A6, today's WSJ, in the article ''Trump's Ties to Israel Test Its Bond With U.S. Jews'', second column.
Ugh. The dreaded WSJ paywall.
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Old 09-16-2019, 10:02 AM
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Meanwhile the dictionary definition of the word "literally" literally includes its hyperbolic and metaphoric usages. OED inclusive. Such usage dates back to at least 1789 and with the likes of Dickens, F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Bronte using it in that sense.

Like many words its meaning is determined by the context.
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Old 09-16-2019, 10:18 AM
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The author of that article is straining hard (figuratively?) to justify bad usage, both by claiming people have been screwing up that way for a long time (no surprise there) and quoting at least one dictionary definition that doesn't really support his argument (for example, the Collins English Dictionary, which supports use of ''literally'' as an ''intensifier', i.e. in saying ''there were literally thousands of people'').

If there were only a couple of dozen people, you can't get away with saying there were ''literally thousands'', even if they were loud and obnoxious enough to simulate a much bigger crowd.

The dictionaries that have caved to persistent human stupidity by essentially equating literal and figurative should figuratively be boiled in oil.

I'll go with the comments from that article, Alex.

"Definition 2: the dictionary is literally wrong.

This is literally the stupidest thing I've ever read.

I literally can't even."



Last edited by Jackmannii; 09-16-2019 at 10:20 AM.
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Old 09-16-2019, 10:57 AM
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I agree. "Literal" should never be used except when something truly, actually, is the case. i.e., "The farm explosion was so powerful that pigs were literally flying."
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Old 09-16-2019, 11:15 AM
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yay another thread on literally where dopers can put the lie to the board's credo
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Old 09-16-2019, 11:15 AM
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Both of those things might easily be intended literally as well as figuratively.
If only we had a word that would allow us to tell the difference.
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Old 09-16-2019, 11:33 AM
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Whatever makes you feel better about yourself.
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:00 PM
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Multiple dictionaries include that usage as a definition. Its usage in that manner has a long established history. Its usage in that manner is common usage by manner speakers and writers of the English language easily understood by pretty much everyone.

This is how language works.
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:03 PM
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Descriptivists agree that 'literally' literally doesn't mean 'literally' anymore. Words change meaning. Why aren't 'pretty awful' and 'awful pretty' synonymous? How about Czar Ivan 'the Terrible' who is also called John 'the Awesome'? I guess 450 years ago 'terrible' and 'awesome' were almost synonyms!

Words change, yes. But old fogeys like me don't need to like it. Get off my lawn!
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:04 PM
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This is how language works.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWdd6_ZxX8c
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:09 PM
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It annoys me, but the war is over and we lost. Usually I don't care about stretching the language but in this case the people using "literally" to mean "figuratively" don't know what "literally" literally means.
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:17 PM
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Descriptivists agree that 'literally' literally doesn't mean 'literally' anymore. Words change meaning. Why aren't 'pretty awful' and 'awful pretty' synonymous? How about Czar Ivan 'the Terrible' who is also called John 'the Awesome'? I guess 450 years ago 'terrible' and 'awesome' were almost synonyms!

Words change, yes. But old fogeys like me don't need to like it. Get off my lawn!
This word changed about two hundred years before you were born.

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If it's "only an opinion," it is, at least, one shared by the vast majority of people who study language professionally.
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:29 PM
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The dictionaries that have caved to persistent human stupidity by essentially equating literal and figurative should figuratively be boiled in oil.
The purpose of a modern dictionary is to describe how people use a word. If people use the word "literally" to mean "figuratively," then it is incumbent on them to list that definition. After all, what is the point of a dictionary if it doesn't list every definition of a word?

You can put a note as to the (slowly dying) controversy over the usage, but if people use it that way, that has to be recorded.

You can't stop linguistic change. I remember when people objected strenuously to starting a sentence with "Hopefully" (e.g., "Hopefully, he will not swim in shark-infested water"). I haven't heard that little bete noir in years.
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Old 09-16-2019, 12:44 PM
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Meanwhile the dictionary definition of the word "literally" literally includes its hyperbolic and metaphoric usages. OED inclusive. Such usage dates back to at least 1789 and with the likes of Dickens, F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Bronte using it in that sense.

Like many words its meaning is determined by the context.
We have had literally thousands* of threads on this topic. And I have in the past suggested that there's a major distinction to be made between a competent writer's use of "literally" to mean something closely analogous to the phenomenon being implied (Fitzgerald's "she literally glowed", for example, being closely aligned with metaphors like "positively radiant" and "beaming with happiness") versus an illiterate moron's misuse of the term like "my head literally exploded" in which there is no such analogy with the detonation of some sticks of dynamite. The latter is simply an abuse of the language that arises from the misapprehension that "literally" is just a generic intensifier, like a profanity.

--
* Meaning probably about three.
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Old 09-16-2019, 01:07 PM
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Both of those things might easily be intended literally as well as figuratively. It’s not like they’re saying something like “literally climbing the walls.”
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If only we had a word that would allow us to tell the difference.
My point was that the OP's two examples are not good examples of egregiously "bad" usage of "literally." If I'm scratching my head figuratively, I am also often scratching my head literally.
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Old 09-16-2019, 01:21 PM
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We have had literally thousands* of threads on this topic. And I have in the past suggested that there's a major distinction to be made between a competent writer's use of "literally" to mean something closely analogous to the phenomenon being implied (Fitzgerald's "she literally glowed", for example, being closely aligned with metaphors like "positively radiant" and "beaming with happiness") versus an illiterate moron's misuse of the term like "my head literally exploded" in which there is no such analogy with the detonation of some sticks of dynamite. The latter is simply an abuse of the language that arises from the misapprehension that "literally" is just a generic intensifier, like a profanity.

--
* Meaning probably about three.
I'm having trouble following the logic here. Is your argument that "literally glowed" is acceptable because there are a lot of other metaphors that express broadly the same concept, and "my head literally exploded" not acceptable because there aren't any other metaphors that express a similar sentiment?
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Old 09-16-2019, 01:54 PM
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If I'm scratching my head figuratively, I am also often scratching my head literally.
Often? What does that mean? Are you scratching your head or not?

It appears that when you say you're doing something literally, you mean you're either doing it or you're not doing it. But there's no way of telling because you don't understand how to use the word.
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Old 09-16-2019, 01:56 PM
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I'm scratching my head trying to understand your confusion.
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Old 09-16-2019, 02:00 PM
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Often? What does that mean? Are you scratching your head or not?
What are you asking me? It wasn't my quote in the OP.

In the example given, the speaker could very well be referring to having literally scratched es head, so it's not really a good example of incorrect usage.

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It appears that when you say you're doing something literally, you mean you're either doing it or you're not doing it.
No, it doesn't appear so, not if you're reading what I'm actually saying.
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Old 09-16-2019, 02:03 PM
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I support this Pitting.

Another term whose usage has been co-opted by the Ignorati is "exponential growth." One of the following two sequences exhibits exponential growth in its mathematical sense. Guess which one.
1, 8, 27, 64, 125, 216, 343, 512, 729, 1000, 1331, 1728,
2.000, 2.020, 2.040, 2.060, 2.081, 2.102, 2.123, 2.144, 2.165, 2.187, 2.209, 2.231,
But faulty facts are even worse than Humpty-Dumpty words. On a somberer note even prestigious newspapers are rife with factual confusions. The "Age of Information" indeed!
I can't guess because it is obvious. More interesting question: At what point does the second sequence pass the first?
SPOILER:
A bit before the 2200th term

Last edited by Hari Seldon; 09-16-2019 at 02:03 PM.
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Old 09-16-2019, 02:35 PM
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Often? What does that mean? Are you scratching your head or not?

It appears that when you say you're doing something literally, you mean you're either doing it or you're not doing it. But there's no way of telling because you don't understand how to use the word.
Yeah, it's almost as if you have to read for context to understand when someone is speaking hyperbolically or not. You seem, in general, to be able to handle this task with very nearly every single other word in the English language. I think you'll be able to handle it when people use "literally" hypebolically.
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Old 09-16-2019, 02:39 PM
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I don't think the argument that "We fought a word definition war but we lost, so we have to just accept that we lost" is valid. "Literally" is not like other words. The word "gay," for instance, used to mean "happy" but now means "homosexual." Okay. So that's that.

But "literally" is different. It is akin to "exact." Imagine how you would feel if the word "exact" were taken to mean "approximate" or "so-so" instead of.......exact. Where an engineer who says, "This bridge needs to be exactly 286.3 meters long" is now thought to be saying, "This bridge only needs to be somewhere in the vicinity of 286 meters." Or a police chief who says "We have exactly 200 missing people on our list" is taken to mean "more or less that number."
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Old 09-16-2019, 02:40 PM
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Duplicate post.

Last edited by Miller; 09-16-2019 at 02:43 PM.
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Old 09-16-2019, 02:43 PM
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I don't think the argument that "We fought a word definition war but we lost, so we have to just accept that we lost" is valid. "Literally" is not like other words.
No, it's not.

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But "literally" is different. It is akin to "exact." Imagine how you would feel if the word "exact" were taken to mean "approximate" or "so-so" instead of.......exact. Where an engineer who says, "This bridge needs to be exactly 286.3 meters long" is now thought to be saying, "This bridge only needs to be somewhere in the vicinity of 286 meters." Or a police chief who says "We have exactly 200 missing people on our list" is taken to mean "more or less that number."
"Exact" is also often used in a non-literal fashion. For example,

"I think we should repeal this particular regulation."
"Oh, so you think that companies should be able to do whatever they want without consequence?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I think."

Last edited by Miller; 09-16-2019 at 02:43 PM.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:02 PM
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This word changed about two hundred years before you were born.
The hyperbolic use of the word to add color may be two centuries old, but I learned the word growing up and literally learned that 'literally' meant 'literally.' If 'literately' meant 'figuratively', shouldn't my teachers have taught me so?

Dickens may have enjoyed writing colorful language in the 19th century, but the phenomenon that people literally seem to no longer know what 'literally' meant seems much newer.

But yeah, I've conceded that language operates on democratic principles and the majority have spoken. Still .... Get off my lawn! (figuratively speaking).
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:03 PM
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But "literally" is different. It is akin to "exact." Imagine how you would feel if the word "exact" were taken to mean "approximate" or "so-so" instead of.......exact. Where an engineer who says, "This bridge needs to be exactly 286.3 meters long" is now thought to be saying, "This bridge only needs to be somewhere in the vicinity of 286 meters." Or a police chief who says "We have exactly 200 missing people on our list" is taken to mean "more or less that number."
Then exact would have a colloquial mean of 'approximately' and a term of art meaning in civil engineering and policing. Hardly unusual.

I'm genuinely curious. When you look up a word in a dictionary, do you think it is more helpful to get a definition that demonstrates how the current general populace uses the word, or how the lexicographer who wrote that entry thinks that word should be used?
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:05 PM
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If I'm scratching my head figuratively, I am also often scratching my head literally.
Really? I haven't seen anyone do that to express puzzlement since Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:23 PM
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The hyperbolic use of the word to add color may be two centuries old, but I learned the word growing up and literally learned that 'literally' meant 'literally.' If 'literately' meant 'figuratively', shouldn't my teachers have taught me so?
Yes, I'm sure they did teach you that. I suspect they also taught you that splitting infinitives is improper. They might also have told you that Columbus was the first person to discover North America. Possibly, they told you that the Civil War was about states rights. They might even have told you that (as one of my teachers told me) that it's aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly.

No disrespect to the teaching profession, but they're human. They get stuff wrong.

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Dickens may have enjoyed writing colorful language in the 19th century, but the phenomenon that people literally seem to no longer know what 'literally' meant seems much newer.
There is no such phenomenon. People who use "literal" in a non-literal sense aren't ignorant about what the word means. They're just using it like literally every other word in the English language, and employing it in a non-literal, hyperbolic fashion.

And if you're confused if the literally I used there was figurative or not? It doesn't matter. You understood my point either way.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:28 PM
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Really? I haven't seen anyone do that to express puzzlement since Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
Did you become suddenly vision impaired sometime around 1969?
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:30 PM
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No, it's not.



"Exact" is also often used in a non-literal fashion. For example,

"I think we should repeal this particular regulation."
"Oh, so you think that companies should be able to do whatever they want without consequence?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I think."
Even without sarcasm, exact isn't exactly exact. If I tell you about something unusual that happened, and you say, "The exact same thing happened to me!", what you mean is that something very similar happened to you. It can't be the exact same thing, because for one, it didn't happen at the same point in time and space, because if it had I'd have seen you there and you wouldn't have to tell me about it, right?
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:30 PM
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We have had literally thousands* of threads on this topic. And I have in the past suggested that there's a major distinction to be made between a competent writer's use of "literally" to mean something closely analogous to the phenomenon being implied (Fitzgerald's "she literally glowed", for example, being closely aligned with metaphors like "positively radiant" and "beaming with happiness") versus an illiterate moron's misuse of the term like "my head literally exploded" in which there is no such analogy with the detonation of some sticks of dynamite. The latter is simply an abuse of the language that arises from the misapprehension that "literally" is just a generic intensifier, like a profanity.

--
* Meaning probably about three.
I'm having trouble following the logic here. Is your argument that "literally glowed" is acceptable because there are a lot of other metaphors that express broadly the same concept, and "my head literally exploded" not acceptable because there aren't any other metaphors that express a similar sentiment?
No, it's the other way around. The (subjectively) acceptable uses are those which have spawned other metaphors precisely because they present an emotionally provocative image closely related to the reality that they are meant to amplify. The poor uses are those employed by ignoramuses who completely fail to understand this linguistic device, and who are ignorant of what the word "literally" fundamentally even means. I am in awe of even comedic writers like P.G. Wodehouse who wrote "incorrectly" in order to express a point with impactful and memorable eloquence. It isn't grammatical correctness in the school-marm sense that should be sought after; it's basic literacy in the sense of understanding the language in all its nuances, and how to use it best.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:33 PM
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Yeah. I still use "literally" to mean "in a literal sense, non-figuratively", but I enjoy watching words linguistically evolve to have semantically opposite meanings that exist in current usage simultaneously. See also, e.g., "wicked" and "sick".
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:34 PM
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I think part of the issue is that the whole prescriptive versus descriptive aspect gets all the attention, when the crucial but virtually ignored element is actually spoken versus written.

The different uses have *very* different intonation when spoken, and as has become evident by the invention of emoticons and emoji, conversational dialogue is much more nuanced than other forms of language and harder to express in writing.

This is a fairly new phenomenon caused by technology, so there's no sense in trying to cite principles that cannot have existed because there was practically no comparable context to need them for.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:40 PM
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"Literally" means "exactly precisely what happens" or it means "what might happen, as a metaphor."
"Decimated" means "completely destroyed and smashed," or it means "reduced by one-tenth"
"Enormity" means either "a big, big, big thing, so big" or it means "a really horrible thing"
"Podium" means either "a raised platform for someone to stand on to elevate them" or "the lectern"
"Penultimate" means either "the mostest of the mostest" or "the next to the last thing"

It's all good, fuhgeddaboudit
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:46 PM
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Deci means ten and mate means sex so clearly decimate means to have sex with 10 people.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:48 PM
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Most words, I don't have any problem with their meanings shifting. Usually, the meaning is clear from context, but occasionally, ambiguity arises. But even when there's ambiguity, it's still not a problem, because you can ask for clarification.

Except for "literally". I can refer to someone's head exploding, for instance, and if there's an off chance that they might have been hit by a high-powered weapon, or the like, I can clarify that I mean that their head figuratively exploded, or that it literally exploded. But when the word "literally" is itself the word whose meaning is shifting, that's no longer possible. There become some concepts which it is no longer possible to express linguistically. It's verbicide.
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Old 09-16-2019, 03:57 PM
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surely you mean adverbicide

Winifred, they're onto us. We need to kick our efforts to rot english into a useless heap of garbage into overdrive!

Last edited by Inner Stickler; 09-16-2019 at 03:59 PM.
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Old 09-16-2019, 04:04 PM
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No, it's the other way around. The (subjectively) acceptable uses are those which have spawned other metaphors precisely because they present an emotionally provocative image closely related to the reality that they are meant to amplify.
In what way is "She was literally glowing" closer to the "reality they were meant to amplify" than "My head literally exploded?"

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The poor uses are those employed by ignoramuses who completely fail to understand this linguistic device, and who are ignorant of what the word "literally" fundamentally even means.
You're going to have to show some evidence that people who use phrases like, "My head literally exploded," don't know what "literally" means. The fact that they use it in a way that you personally don't like doesn't mean they don't know the definition.

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I am in awe of even comedic writers like P.G. Wodehouse who wrote "incorrectly" in order to express a point with impactful and memorable eloquence. It isn't grammatical correctness in the school-marm sense that should be sought after; it's basic literacy in the sense of understanding the language in all its nuances, and how to use it best.
One of the nuances of the language is that you can use words in a non-literal sense. This applies to all words, including "literal" itself. By arguing against this standard and well-established usage, you are, yourself, demonstrating a fairly profound (but, tragically, common) failure to understand the nuances of language.

Now, I'll certainly grant that Wodehouse and Fitzgerald et. al. are better than most at using this device in a way that elevates their prose, but that's equally true of every other literary device. If there is an acceptable way to use "literally" in a figurative sense, then every usage of literally in a figurative sense is acceptable, and you're just squabbling about aesthetics.
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Old 09-16-2019, 04:20 PM
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Except for "literally". I can refer to someone's head exploding, for instance, and if there's an off chance that they might have been hit by a high-powered weapon, or the like, I can clarify that I mean that their head figuratively exploded, or that it literally exploded. But when the word "literally" is itself the word whose meaning is shifting, that's no longer possible. There become some concepts which it is no longer possible to express linguistically. It's verbicide.
Again, the meaning of "literally" is not "shifting." It has shifted, and it did so before your grandparents were born.

That aside, I'm trying to put your concern into some sort of real-world scenario, and I'm finding the exercise hilarious.

Corporal: Sarge, there's snipers on that ridge! Smith's head literally exploded when they started shooting!
Sergeant: He was really surprised, huh?
Corporal: No, I mean he was shot in the head by a sniper, and his head literally blew into separate chunks.
Sergeant: Well, I imagine getting shot at for the first time can be pretty shocking, but he'll get used to it.
Corporal: Sarge, he's dead! His corpse is right here, and you can see that he's literally lost his head!
Sergeant: He's in the army now! He needs to get his emotions under control!

Or, the shorter version from the other side, perhaps?

"When Smith saw the sales numbers, his head literally exploded!"
"OH MY GOD! CALL THE COPS! ACTIVE SHOOTER! ACTIVE SHOOTER! EVERYONE SHELTER IN PLACE!"

Amusing, but neither seems super likely. Maybe you can provide a real world example where this sort of confusion caused a serious, prolonged problem that couldn't be ironed out through additional communication and clarification? Given that this usage has been around since the Holy Roman Empire was a thing, there should be plenty to pick from.
  #47  
Old 09-16-2019, 04:28 PM
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Amusing, but neither seems super likely. Maybe you can provide a real world example where this sort of confusion caused a serious, prolonged problem that couldn't be ironed out through additional communication and clarification? Given that this usage has been around since the Holy Roman Empire was a thing, there should be plenty to pick from.
I've been asking the get-off-my-lawners for that example for years, now, and they've never obliged. I doubt this thread's gonna be the place where they find the one example in English where the use of literally as an intensifier created confusion.
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Old 09-16-2019, 04:30 PM
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Yeah, it's almost as if you have to read for context to understand when someone is speaking hyperbolically or not. You seem, in general, to be able to handle this task with very nearly every single other word in the English language. I think you'll be able to handle it when people use "literally" hypebolically.
No, it's not like that. And people who say this are just showing they don't understand what the problem is.
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Old 09-16-2019, 04:37 PM
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No, it's not like that. And people who say this are just showing they don't understand what the problem is.
No? Then what is the problem? Given the general superiority of your control over the English language, I expect it should be a simple task for you to explain the core of your discontent over the issue in a way even a simple, unlettered ignoramus like myself could eventually come to comprehend.
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Old 09-16-2019, 04:38 PM
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Deci means ten and mate means sex so clearly decimate means to have sex with 10 people.
Oh yeah I forgot that one. Also "uni" means one and "equus" means horse, so "unique" means one-horse, as in, I grew up in a unique town.
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